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Virtual Justice

Virtual Justice: The New Laws of Online Worlds

greg lastowka
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Virtual Justice
    Book Description:

    Tens of millions of people today are living part of their life in a virtual world. In places like World of Warcraft, Second Life, and Free Realms, people are making friends, building communities, creating art, and making real money. Business is booming on the virtual frontier, as billions of dollars are paid in exchange for pixels on screens. But sometimes things go wrong. Virtual criminals defraud online communities in pursuit of real-world profits. People feel cheated when their avatars lose virtual property to wrongdoers. Increasingly, they turn to legal systems for solutions. But when your avatar has been robbed, what law is there to assist you?

    InVirtual Justice,Greg Lastowka illustrates the real legal dilemmas posed by virtual worlds. Presenting the most recent lawsuits and controversies, he explains how governments are responding to the chaos on the cyberspace frontier. After an engaging overview of the history and business models of today's virtual worlds, he explores how laws of property, jurisdiction, crime, and copyright are being adapted to pave the path of virtual law.

    Virtual worlds are becoming more important to society with each passing year. This pioneering study will be an invaluable guide to scholars of online communities for years to come.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-16316-2
    Subjects: Law, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-8)

    I want to begin not with law or virtual worlds exactly, but with a study of three castles. One castle is real, one is sort of real, and one is arguably unreal, insofar as it exists primarily in a virtual world. All three share the common name of “castle,” however. And all three can serve to introduce some basic observations about power, technology, artifice, and law.

    Cardiff Castle, with its Norman Keep portion pictured below, sits at the center of the Welsh city from which it derives its name. During their heyday, stone castles like Cardiff Castle were abundant in...

  5. 1 law
    (pp. 9-28)

    This book explores the way law relates to places like Britannia. Britannia is a virtual world.¹ Virtual worlds come in many shapes and sizes. Some have medieval themes, like World of Warcraft. Some are set in outer space, like Eve Online. Some are more eclectic and malleable dream spaces, like Second Life. Some are geared toward children, like the (Disney-owned) land of snow, ice, and flightless birds called Club Penguin.

    All virtual worlds, however, are Internet-based simulated environments that feature software-animated objects and events.² Users are represented in virtual worlds by “avatars,” digital alter egos that both embody and enable...

  6. 2 history
    (pp. 29-48)

    In 1998, when the Internet still seemed new and strange to most people, the Hollywood romantic comedyYou’ve Got Mailfeatured Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan falling in love with each other anonymously via e-mail. The interesting twist was that offline, the characters of Hanks and Ryan were bitter rivals, oblivious to their growing romance in cyberspace. While the premise was high-tech, the film was actually based on a movie created over fifty years earlier,The Shop Around the Corner. The film starred Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullivan as two antagonistic co-workers who were, unwittingly, amorous pen pals.You’ve Got...

  7. 3 landscape
    (pp. 49-66)

    World of Warcraft is set in the world of Azeroth, a virtual environment that currently spans three virtual continents. At the same time, the virtual world of Azeroth spans the non-virtual globe, with over ten million players in Asia, North America, and Europe. While this book gives far greater attention to the virtual worlds that are most popular in the United States, the Asian market for virtual worlds is as large, if not larger, than the Western market. In Asia, there are two leading nations in the business of virtual worlds: China and the Republic of Korea.

    China’s prominence is...

  8. 4 regulation
    (pp. 67-74)

    In the early part of the twentieth century, the airplane transformed society. Concurrently, “aviation law” was created.¹ Today aviation law is an established field of legal practice, with its own specialized legal journals and law firms.²

    The formation of aviation law took some time. In the United States and around the world, local, state, and national governments needed to create a new set of legal rules for the airplane or adapt old laws to apply to the new technology. This process took many decades to mature and the regulation of airplanes has never ceased its evolution. The birth of aviation...

  9. 5 jurisdiction
    (pp. 75-101)

    Most popular news stories about virtual worlds ask, at some point, whether “real” laws apply to the communities that use them. We should probably start instead by asking the question, if laws apply to virtual worlds:whichlaws apply to the communities that use them? The problem is that there are actually many real laws, and only a few of these apply to a particular person at any given moment. Much depends on where that person is standing. For instance, Korean and German laws are perfectly real, but if you happen to live in the United States, you will probably...

  10. 6 games
    (pp. 102-121)

    Ray Chapman was a shortstop for the Cleveland Indians. In August 1920, he was at the plate facing the Yankee pitcher Carl Mays. Mays was known for his unpleasant temperament and his unique “submarine” pitching style. He also had a reputation for pitching inside and sometimes hitting batters. At the start of the fifth inning, Mays pitched an inside fastball to Chapman. Chapman either failed to duck or ducked too late, depending on what account you read. Batting helmets were not used in the early twentieth century, and the ball struck Chapman’s head with a loud crack. It bounced back...

  11. 7 property
    (pp. 122-143)

    I ended the last chapter with the story of Cally, the scam artist who made off with the equivalent of a hundred thousand dollars in EVE Online currency. In increasing numbers, the Callys of virtual worlds are being prosecuted. In November 2007, various news sources reported that a seventeen-year-old in the Netherlands had been arrested and charged with the theft of virtual furniture in Habbo Hotel.¹ The victims were other Dutch teenagers who logged in to Habbo Hotel and found their rooms stripped bare of their virtual possessions. In Habbo, unlike EVE Online, theft and fraud are not considered customary...

  12. 8 hackers
    (pp. 144-165)

    As I mentioned in chapter 2, the most common protagonist in the fiction of virtual worlds is the hacker, a person skilled at manipulating computer interfaces and breaking the rules that constrain the coded capabilities of ordinary users. Neo inThe Matrix, Mr. Slippery inTrue Names, Flynn inTron, Case inNeuromancer, and Hiro inSnow Crashare all notable (and notably male) examples of the hero hacker. The hacker becomes a hero in these stories because the villains, who must be defeated, have seized power using oppressive technologies.True Names,Tron, andThe Matrixall feature a rogue...

  13. 9 copyright
    (pp. 166-193)

    At the time it was released, the City of Heroes MMORPG set a new standard for avatar customization. Cryptic Studios and NCsoft created what they labeled a “character creation engine,” an immensely flexible program that let users choose the size, shape, and color of their avatar’s body, hairstyle, facial expression, shoes, scars, gloves, utility belts, skin texture, chest symbols, sunglasses, etc. New players of City of Heroes would sometimes spend several hours working on their costumes before playing the actual game. Indeed, for some users, making costumes became the whole point of City of Heroes, as superhero fashion shows were...

  14. conclusion
    (pp. 194-196)

    The legal issues I have addressed in this book will not go away or be resolved conclusively anytime soon. In fact, chances are that they will become more vexing and complicated as virtual worlds become more popular. Legal struggles over property, crime, contract, and intellectual property will become increasingly frequent. Other legal issues mentioned only briefly in previous chapters, such as free speech, trademark, and privacy rights, will surely spur new lawsuits, new controversies, and new twists in legal doctrine.

    As I suggested in the introduction, the most remarkable thing about the application of law to virtual worlds today is...

  15. NOTES
    (pp. 197-220)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 221-226)